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CentralTexas Gardener KLRU-TV, Austin PBS, creates innovative television that inspires and educates. KLRU-produced programs that air statewide on kl ru Texas PBS stations include Central Texas Gardener, Texas tv and beyond Monthly Talks and The Biscuit Brothers. Check your local listings. klru.org species of long-needled evergreen covers a mere 3 percent of the 70 million acres it once occupied. Its disappearance is one of the reasons people believe the ivory-billed woodpecker died out. Waking in the morning mist, all was quiet. It was next to impossible to imagine what it must have been like when the Neches was still a major trade route. Following in the footsteps of the Cherokee and Caddo tribes, the sons and daughters of Appalachian clans brought their saws and axes to these dark forests. They used the river to ship logs downstream, and ferries helped move goods upstream from the Port of Beaumont. Now it’s nothing but solitude on the upper Neches. Neches loyalists like Van Dellen and Donovan are not content now that there’s a federal refuge on the Neches. Threats to this delicate habitat remain. Dallas has already announced that the city is looking for alternative dam sites on the river, infuriating conservationists who believe that Lake Texoma, northwest of Denison on the Red River, and Toledo Bend Reservoir, along the Texas-Louisiana border on the Sabine River, would be better sources of drinking water. With the timber industry in decline in East Texas, the wildlife service and local conservationists are looking at ways to secure more real estate for the refuge. Though the refuge plan calls for 25,000 acres, economic realties mean that the federal government is still scrambling for funds to purchase land. About 6,000 acres have been bought by conservation groups that intend to donate the land to the refuge. In a twist on the normal state of affairs, many locals are relieved to have Washington take control of the landit beats having it submerged. The defeat of Fastrill Dam protects 38 miles of a river that stretches over 400 miles, and the conservation community is organizing to establish stronger protections. The top priority is convincing Texas’ congressional delegation to push for a federal Wild and Scenic designation that would stop future dams. Even those who never want to sleep in the dirt, hear a wood duck or feel the weight of a paddle cutting through the water can see the Neches is a worthy MARCH 19, 2010 resource. For those willing to cope with mud and bugs, the Neches offers a primitive paradise. As we crossed Tails Creek, named for a Caddo chieftain, the whorls of the Little Thicket were replaced by a classic, broad-shouldered Southeastern river. I identified familiar trees including white oak, hickory and black gum, and tallied a list of birds such as the belted kingfisher, black vulture and turkey vulture, crows, and ever-present “little brown jobbies.” After three days on the Neches, we came to our takeout at state Highway 294, where logging trucks rattled the bridge. Beneath blue skies, we set about sorting our gear, feeling secure in the knowledge that, for the time being, the Neches River would be waiting the next time we were ready for a nearby escape. Since moving to Texas, freelance writer Dan Olio has learned to love thickets, big and small. His work has appeared in Texas Parks and Wildlife, Outside and Audubon. Adrian F. Van Dellen enjoys a solitary dawn on the Neches. PHOTO BY ADRIAN VAN DELLEN BROWSE THE WEB SITE of a group opposed to the reservoir at www.tcatexas.org